The Centre may have killed one of its babies in infancy.
ONCONET, Centre's technology-based cancer care delivery programme, has shut down at the Civil Hospital here in just two years. All thanks to no payment to the executing company.
The knowledge-enabled network connecting 27 regional cancer centres (RCCs) and 108 peripheral cancer centres (PCCs) across India with the help of information and communication technology was the baby of the union ministry of health and family welfare.
This project connected district cancer patients to superspecialist doctors at the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, and they didn't have to travel over long distance for consultation and treatment.
In April 2007, the Punjab government had chosen the Civil Hospitals in Bathinda, Muktsar, Sangrur and Hoshiarpur to run the programme from. The project could start only after three years, and within one year, was closed temporarily. A year later, Recorders and Medicine Systems, company that installed the network, took off all its equipment in Bathinda for permanent closure.
The network treated cancer patients through documentation and video conferencing. Only 35 patients were examined in one year (2010-11): 26 through documentation, eight with the help of videoconferencing, and one using both methods.
"It was an excellent project," senior medical officer (SMO) Dr Satish said at the programme's closing. "We could transfer and show reports to superspecialists at the PGI and discuss the line of treatment, but now we have to refer patients to distant hospitals."
The last patient at Bathinda was checked-up on July 1, 2011. Ajaib Singh of Bhucho Khurd died a few months ago. "My father's cancer was in the last stage when we contacted doctors via OncoNET," said Satinder Singh, son of Ajaib Singh, "They told us there was no hope of his surviving."
Opening private cancer hospitals is useless, opines Satinder Singh, "because many patients cannot even afford one-time consultation fee at these centres". "Awareness is as important as developing new cancer hospitals."
"The Central government was responsible for funding the company it had hired," said SMO Dr Satish. "We installed and ran the equipment, and Telecommunication Consultants India Limited (TCIL), a union government body, was supposed to pay us," said Vinod Chaudhary, assistant general manager (AGM) of Recorders and Medicine Systems. "We waited for 18 months and then took off all our equipment because of nonpayment."
The company's director, Jalesh Grover, is also disappointed. "The OncoNET project in Bathinda was in our care," he said. "A payment of Rs 13 lakh is pending, which includes manpower and equipment charges."
The company ran this project even in Chandigarh, where a similar amount is due. Bathinda district in particular, and the Malwa region in general, are the state's cancer hub. The region's water is contaminated with heavy metals, so cancer will remain a problem for a long time. OncoNet was the region's hope of affordable treatment near home.
July 2010 project started
July 2011 stopped temporarily because of nonpayment of charges
July 1, 2011 Ajaib Singh of Bhucho Khurd is last patient checked-up at Bathinda (he died a few months ago)
June 2012 Implementing company Recorders and Medicine Systems takes off all its equipment for permanent closure of the Bathinda facility
35 patients examined in one year (2010-11): 26 through documentation, eight with the help of videoconferencing, and one using both methods.
Patients now have to travel long distance meet experts and get treatment
Remote consultation: Interaction between doctors, and doctors and patient, was made available with the help of videoconferencing
Tele-education: Continuing medical education (CME) programmes were broadcast over videoconferencing link between regional and peripheral cancer centres
Telemedicine infrastructures: Each specialty centre (regional cancer cerntre) includes telemedicine equipment such as computers, network connectivity and OncoNET suit
Web-based telemedicine software: OncoNET Telemedicine software is a web-based, developed by National Informatics Centre (NIC) using free open source software (FOSS) tools and conforming to health care standards; made available as "software as a services (SaaS)" by the NIC on behalf of the union ministry of health and family welfare
Important links: Delhi State Cancer Institute (DSCI), international cancer resources, and cancer support groups in India were on the network